A Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the Isle of Wight, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in November 2011
Hovercraft on the Solent, 22-second video clip

Recently I took a two-day trip by rail from London to tour Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. On the second day I visited the nearby Isle of Wight before returning to London that evening.

Portsmouth is not blessed with historic architecture since ninety percent of the city was destroyed by World War II bombing. However, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, offering much in the way of maritime history, is fascinating and will appeal to both adults (especially naval buffs) and youngsters alike. The hefty GBP21.50 admission fee includes not only an enjoyable, breezy 45-minute harbour cruise but also entrance to a number of interesting exhibits and museums.

One of the highlights is HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. By the time of that famous battle, this ship, which carried a complement of 850 sailors, had logged 40 years of service with the Royal Navy already. The vessel has been a museum for nearly nine decades, and the spot where Nelson was struck on board is well-marked.

The Mary Rose, flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, sank in 1545 while the king looked on. The ship was raised from the seabed in 1982 along with over 10,000 related artefacts, some of the best of which are on display.

Although not as well known as HMS Victory or the Mary Rose, HMS Warrior was the first armoured battleship constructed in Britain. Built in 1859, this iron-hulled vessel was the fastest, longest and most powerful warship of her era. With four vast decks, the ship was powered by both steam and sail and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet.

The Museum of the Royal Navy includes galleries with models, paintings, weapons, and memorabilia from various periods of British naval history. The captivating Trafalgar Experience puts the viewer into the midst of the Battle of Trafalgar on that fateful day when the British fleet achieved victory but Nelson was mortally wounded.

Action Stations, with more than two dozen activities, will appeal primarily to the younger set. Sporting simulators and other technological devices as well as physical challenges, the gallery enables visitors to experience everything from an astronaut’s view of our planet to propulsion science. Also included is one of the largest climbing towers in Europe.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard boasts several other interesting features. The Dockyard Apprentice, portraying dockyard life in 1911, recalls that Portsmouth was once the world’s greatest industrial complex, employing more than 25,000 workers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Trafalgar Sail is the largest single original artefact from the Battle of Trafalgar. Tattered by some 90 shell holes, the large woven cloth, manufactured by hand in 1803, covers an area of 336 square yards (3,618 square feet) and would have weighed 370 kg (814 pounds) when new! The interactive exhibit, Bones of Oak and Iron, explains how HMS Victory was built, how she was cared for while in use, and how she is being preserved now.

I felt that my night’s rest at a local hotel was well-deserved after having spent a very enjoyable but long afternoon at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The following morning I boarded a ferry for the Isle of Wight, which lies only four miles away across the Solent. Upon arrival, it was a short train ride or a long walk along the 800-meter (877-yard) pier into the busy tourist town and railhead of Ryde on the northeast coast.

The Isle of Wight is a very popular day trip from the mainland, and one of its most-visited attractions is Osborne House near East Cowes, built in the mid-nineteenth century. This is where Queen Victoria died in 1901. I was able to reach Osborne House by public bus from Ryde. The rooms in the Italian-inspired mansion remain as Victoria would have known them. At the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria instructed that this, her quiet summer retreat, should remain unchanged; and her wish has been heeded. One of the highlights is the Indian-inspired Durbar Room which was used for state functions.

The least expensive nonstop round trip restricted economy class airfare from Cairo to London is approximately EGP 3,040 on British Midland. It is wise to book rail tickets between London and Portsmouth in advance online at a site such as www.southwesttrains.co.uk. More information about the historic dockyard is available online at www.historicdockyard.co.uk. Portsmouth is very convenient for visitors because the train, bus, and ferry terminals are adjacent to one another. There is frequent ferry service between the mainland and the Isle of Wight.       


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 316 of the 321 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open Saturday through Thursday 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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